ERCIM News No.44 - January 2001 [contents]

The blue-c Project

by Markus Gross and Oliver Staadt

The blue-c is a joint research project between several institutes at ETH Zurich. Our goal is to build a collaborative, immersive virtual environment which will eventually integrate real humans captured by a set of video cameras. The project has started in April 2000 and its first phase is expected to be completed by spring 2003.

Mastering the rapidly changing computing and communication resources is an essential key to personal and professional success in a global information society. The main challenge consists not only in accessing data, but rather in extracting relevant information and combining it into new structures. The efficient and collaborative deployment of applications becomes increasingly important the more complex and interactive tools we have at our disposal. Today’s technology enables information exchange and simple communication. However, it often fails in the promising field of computer enhanced collaboration in virtual reality environments. Some improvements were made by coming-of-age virtual reality systems that offer a variety of instrumental tools for stand-alone visual analysis. Nevertheless, the crucial interaction between humans and virtual objects is mostly neglected. Therefore successful models of truly computer supported collaborative work are still rare.

Real Humans in Virtual Worlds
The blue-c project aims at investigating a new generation of virtual design, modelling and collaboration environments. Three-dimensional human representations will be integrated in real-time into networked virtual environments. The use of large screens and cutting edge projection technology creates the impression of total immersion. Thus, unprecedented interaction and collaboration techniques among humans and virtual models will become feasible.

Computing - Communication - Collaboration
The blue-c features are:

The Technology
The blue-c system foresees simultaneous acquisition of life video streams and projection of virtual reality scenes. Color representations with depth information of the users will be generated using real-time image analysis. The computer generated graphics will be projected onto wall-sized screens surrounding the user, allowing him to completely enter the virtual world. Multiple blue-c portals, connected by highspeed networks, will allow remotely located users to meet, communicate and collaborate in the same virtual space.

Architectural Design
Today’s architects work with both low-scale physical models and computer generated images of buildings. But the advantages of full immersion, involving visual, acoustic, and haptic senses remain widely unexplored. The blue-c system will provide the technology for a variety of new collaborative design, management and refinement procedures between the architect, his customer and third-party experts.

Next Generation Product Development
A new generation of development environments will emerge in the near future. The underlying metaphor is a virtual space which is adaptable to various scenarios and to different stages of the product development process. A network of globally distributed development spaces enables engineers and product managers, field technicians and sales consultants to meet and collaborate in one common virtual environment. We envision the blue-c technology as the product design space of the future.

Computer-aided Medicine
Collaborative diagnosis and telepresence open new possibilities in the field of computer-aided medicine. Remotely located experts can participate in the diagnostic process. Highly immersive virtual environments allow researchers and medical students to take interactive journeys into the human body. The unprecedented quality of natural human interaction in a distributed environment makes of the blue-c system an essential tool for future remote collaborative diagnosis.

Blue-c is designed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including people from the several ETH institutes.

Project home page:

Please contact:
Markus Gross - ETH Zurich
Tel: +41 1 632 7114